By Ross Forman
The coaches rant and rave on the sidelines, barking profanity-laced commands. The quarterback talks Xs and Os with ease, and admits to being a 'big fan of the spread offense,' carefully mixing an aerial and ground attack.
Oh, yeah: Quarterback Sami Grisafe and the rest of her Chicago Force teammates are all females, part of the national 32-team Independent Woman's Football League ( IWFL ) , which has such teams as the Seattle Majestics, Tucson Monsoon, Montreal Blitz and New York Sharks.
'Everyone on the team works real hard, makes a lot of sacrifices and gives it their all, both physically and mentally. It just happens to be an all-woman [ as opposed to a ] mostly male team,' said Grisafe, 22. 'Actually, I would say there's probably more commitment and love of the game' on the Force versus male-dominated teams. That's because—although the Force carries a 'pro football' tag—the players have day jobs and each is required to pay $800 to play.
Although a Force rookie, Grisafe is one of the top players on the team. After all, she's the only one with varsity playing experience at the high school level. Grisafe played four downs for California's Redlands High School during the fourth quarter of a win in 2000, thus becoming the first female quarterback at a Division I school, the largest school classification in the state.
And it wasn't just any win for Redlands; it was a victory over archrival Redlands East Valley High School.
'I started playing football when I was 10 years old and I remember then going to high school games with my mom,' Grisafe said. 'And I remember telling her, 'One day I'm going to run out onto that stadium and I'm going to play on that field.''
And that she did, six years later—in a game marred by hail. Some of the team's seniors started chanting her name, and the crowd quickly joined in. As quarterback, Grisafe drove the team downfield, moving about 40 yards on four plays.
'It was amazing, a dream come true,' she said. 'When the coach called me over and said I was going in, my adrenaline shot up; I was overcome. The guys on the team were very supportive of me. It was unreal.
'Redlands is the oldest public high school in California ( established in 1891 ) , so, to me, the challenge was breaking through the tradition. The hardest part was winning over the coaches. But, luckily, I eventually did. I was nervous when I went out there, but excited. I didn't want to let my boys down.'
Grisafe's childhood also included pitching for boys' baseball teams from ages 5 to 14. 'I knew I had an arm, so [ being a ] quarterback seemed natural,' she said.
Grisafe doesn't have her high school jersey anymore, though she does have a team-signed ball … and loads of memories.
And she was the homecoming queen as a senior.
'The biggest difference between the Force and high school is the time commitment,' Grisafe said. 'High school was a bigger time commitment. Now, the players have full-time jobs and we don't practice nearly as often.
'Still, I enjoy the Force a lot; I've learned a lot from the team—as a human being, not just as a football player.'
And what about the raunchy sideline language?
It's no big deal, she said. 'It's a game about passion,' Grisafe said. 'If they were talking to me all polite on the field, that wouldn't be right. We want them to treat us just as other [ male ] players are treated, such as on a high school team or elsewhere. Truthfully, I don't even think about it.'
Grisafe graduated from Roosevelt University in May. She will appear in a play called Railroad Backwards, which opens July 12 at the Prop Theatre ( 3502-4 N. Elston Avenue ) . The show will air on Thursdays thru August 15, then move to New York City.
Getting To Know … Sami Grisafe
Birthday: March 26, 1985
Status: Single. 'I'm attracted to sexy people, regardless of gender. I date people on an individual basis.' She said she is not now dating anyone on the team.
Why Chicago?: 'Chicago has a fantastic theater community, probably one of the most prolific theater communities in the [ United States ] . And I wanted to be a part of that.'
On archrival Detroit Demolition: 'Detroit is the team that we want to beat more than any other team, and we know we can; we know we have the personnel to beat them.'
Favorite quarterback: It's Joe Montana, who she met once and got his autograph: 'I told him how he inspired me.'
QB Grisafe: 'I'm a quarterback who likes to lead her team. I want to be a general for the team.'
High school memories: 'It was fantastic.' After the last game of her sophomore season, one of the senior captains came up to her and told her to not stop playing. She still talks to most of her prep teammates. 'They'll be my brothers for the rest of my life.'
High school teammates: 'My teammates didn't treat me like I was less than them because I was a woman. They treated me the same, just like any other teammate. I learned a lot of life lessons from that team, such as trust and sacrifice.'
It's a fact: 'It wasn't about [ breaking the gender roadblock ] . It was about being a football player.' Heck a coach once told her that she could do girl push-ups, but Grisafe responded, 'Those aren't football push-ups.'
The Chicago Force plays its final regular-season game on June 30, against the Detroit Demolition. Game time is 3 p.m. at North Park University ( at the corner of Foster and Albany on the city's north side ) .